Apple AirTag from iPhone SE user’s perspective

Many people are talking about the Ultra Wide Band (UWB) precision finding supported by AirTags and the last two generations of iPhones. It is possible thanks to Apple’s U1 chip. This feature on its own might quite likely be a good enough reason for many users to upgrade to the latest iPhone.

Since I don’t own iPhone 11 or 12, I was curious what the experience was from iPhone SE or XR user’s perspective. Due to the lack of the U1 chip, these phones don’t support UWB and “Precision Finding”. Instead, they use Bluetooth and “Proximity Finding”.

“With You” Bluetooth accuracy and audible alarm

When the tag is “With You”, that means that your iPhone or macOS device can hear the Bluetooth signal beaconed by the AirTag. In this mode, location accuracy seems to be around 10 meters (depending on where it is and if indoors or outdoors). The lack of the UWB support means that the SE or XR can’t detect the direction you or the AirTag is moving in.

Since the AirTags is “With You” (shown in the screenshot above) and is reachable via Bluetooth, you can activate the audible alarm and find its exact location this way.

Active Bluetooth connection to the tag is required to activate Play Sound

Detached mode accuracy and refresh rate

When the AirTag becomes detached from your iPhone or macOS device (tag’s Bluetooth signal is lost), the tag then relies on other people’s iPhones and macOS devices. As soon as their device hears the Bluetooth signal of your lost AirTag, it relays (or reports if you will) the tag location to iCloud. Thanks to the crown-sourced relayed location, you will be able to see your tag’s current location in the Find My app although you are not anywhere the tag. The AirTag does not even have to be in the Lost Mode. Location finding works in its standard mode.

Location in the Find My does not update instantly. Based on my tests, it refreshes every 5 to 15 minutes.

When it comes to location accuracy relayed by other people’s iPhones and macOS devices, it ranges from approximately 10 meters to 110 meters.

Relayed location – accuracy around 10 meters
Relayed location – accuracy around 110 meters

Can Wi-Fi-only iPads relay location?

No, they can’t. I tested a couple of iPads connected to Wi-Fi with Bluetooth enabled and placed them in close proximity of the AirTag. They did not relay location. As far as I can tell, only iPhones and macOS devices can relay location of a tag.

Can cellular iPads relay location?

I don’t know. Please test it if you have one and tell me;-)

Lost mode

In the unfortunate event of losing your item, you can switch the tag to the “Lost mode” and receive a push notification whenever the AirTags gets automatically reported by someone’s iPhone or macOS device.

Activate Lost Mode and push notification

When that happens location, you receive a notification. Currently, there seems to be a cosmetic bug as the text of the notification does not show the latest location of the tag, but its previous location. When you open “Find My” app, you will see the correct and latest location though.

Item found notification received on Apple Watch

My test setup

  • iPhone SE 2nd generation running iOS 14.5
  • MacBook Pro running Big Sur 11.3.1
  • iPad Mini 5th generation running iOS 14.5
  • iPad Air 2nd generation running iOS 14.5

What is your experience with AirTags?

I am curious what your experience was. Have you tested any other scenarios? Have I missed anything. Please do let me know in the comments and I will update the post.

Published by

Jiri Brejcha

Jiri is passionate about mobility ranging from Wi-Fi to folding bikes;-) He is a Wi-Fi Technical Architect at Cisco UK and proud member of the Cisco Live Network Operations Team and WLAN Pi development team. If not working, he is most likely riding his Brompton bike.

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